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“Democrats And Black Voters”: To Win The Support Of People Of Color, You Have To Incorporate Their Concerns

It has been pretty well established by now that a Democratic candidate can’t win the presidential nomination (much less a general election) without the support of African Americans. Due to that fact, it is interesting to take a look at how Charles Blow is summing up the challenge that faces Bernie Sanders in that regard.

Blow interviewed Sanders and then attended his rally at Benedict College in South Carolina. His column about that summarizes both some of his potential as well as missteps.

There is an earnest, if snappy, aura to Sanders that is laudable and refreshing. One doesn’t sense the stench of ambition or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation.

There is an idealistic crusader in the man, possibly to the point of being quixotic, but at least it doesn’t come off as having been corrupted by money or power or the God complex that so often attends those in pursuit of the seat behind the Resolute Desk.

Sanders’s message of revolutionary change to save a flailing middle class and challenge the sprawling influence of what he calls “the billionaire class” has struck a nerve with a fervid following.

When it comes to that Sanders message, I was struck by something that Blow tweeted, but left out of his column.

In his interview with Blow, Sanders stressed that his campaign recognizes that it is important to “aggressively reach out and bring the African-American community and the Latino community into our campaign.” And yet it appears as though Sanders is making the same mistake a lot of white people do when they realize the importance of garnering support from the African American community…they tweak their own message rather than listen and incorporate what they hear.

For example, Blow points out the tone-deafness of assuming that a Black man like Cornell West helps in that regard.

But Sanders’s ability to win Obama’s supporters may have been made difficult by his associations. On Saturday, Sanders campaigned with Dr. Cornel West, who recently issued an endorsement of Sanders.

West’s critique of the president has been so blistering and unyielding — he has called Obama “counterfeit,” the “black face of the American empire,” a verb-ed neologism of the n-word — that it has bordered on petulance and self-parody.

I would also suggest that one of the reasons Sander’s message fails to connect with African Americans is that – even in the midst of economic conditions that were much worse than today – Ellis Cose pointed out in 2011 that African Americans are the country’s “new optimists.”

As the United States struggles through its worst economic crisis in generations, gloom has seized much of the heartland. The optimism that came so easily to many Americans as the new century dawned is significantly harder to summon these days. There is, however, a conspicuous exception: African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness.

To the extent that optimism has dimmed more recently – it is in response to the shootings of unarmed Black men (often by police officers) and the lack of a “just response” from our justice system. No matter how hard Sanders tries to tie that one to his message about income inequality and economics, it will fall short of connecting to the souls of African Americans.

There is a lesson in all that for Democrats: to win the support of people of color, you have to incorporate their concerns…not simply tweak your own agenda and expect them to climb on your bandwagon.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, September 13, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democrats | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Racism, Violence And The Politics Of Resentment”: It Shouldn’t Be Hard To Recognize Two Truths

We have a choice to make.

We can look at violence and racism as scourges that all of us must join together to fight. Or we can turn the issues of crime and policing into fodder for racial and political division.

In principle, it shouldn’t be hard to recognize two truths.

Too many young African Americans have been killed in confrontations with police when lethal force should not have been used. We should mourn their deaths and demand justice. Black Lives Matter turned into a social movement because there is legitimate anger over the reality that — to be very personal about it — I do not have to worry about my son being shot by the police in the way an African American parent does.

At the same time, too many of our police officers are killed while doing their jobs. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 1,466 men and women in law enforcement died in the line of duty over the past decade. We should mourn their deaths, appreciate the dangers they face and honor their courage.

Now I’ll admit: It’s easy for me to type these words on a computer screen. Circumstances are more complicated for those on either side of confrontations over the obligations of our police officers. Things get said (or, often, shouted) that call forth a reaction from the other side. A few demonstrators can scream vile slogans that can be used to taint a whole movement. Rage escalates.

Moreover, there are substantive disagreements over what needs to be done. Those trying to stop unjust police killings want to establish new rules and practices that many rank-and-file officers resist, arguing that the various measures could prevent them from doing their jobs. This resistance, in turn, only heightens mistrust of the police among their critics.

But politicians and, yes, even political commentators have an obligation: to try to make things better, not worse. There is always a choice between the politics of resentment and the politics of remedy. Resentment is easier.

And so it was this week that the murder of Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth inspired Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to say on Monday: “Whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement. That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all.” For good measure, the next day, Cruz condemned President Obama’s “silence” on Goforth’s murder.

The problem? For starters, Obama was not silent. He called the slain officer’s widow on Monday and issued a statement saying he had told Kathleen Goforth “that Michelle and I would keep her and her family in our prayers. I also promised that I would continue to highlight the uncommon bravery that the police show in our communities every single day. They put their lives on the line for our safety.” Obama has made statements of this sort over and over. Vilification this is not.

Over at Fox News, the campaign against Black Lives Matter has become fierce. Bill O’Reilly called the organization a “hate group” and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”

Let’s take five steps back. The movement for police reform was not the invention of some leftist claque. It was a response to real and genuinely tragic events. Silencing protesters won’t make anything better.

And some potential solutions don’t even make the political agenda. The easy availability of guns on U.S. streets is a threat to the police and to African Americans in our most violent neighborhoods. Why are those who seek reasonable gun regulations regularly blocked by interests far more powerful than those who demonstrate in our streets?

On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Robert F. Kennedy — who himself would be fatally shot exactly two months later — said this to the Cleveland City Club:

“Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily — whether it is done in the name of the law or in defiance of the law, by one man or by a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence — whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, whenever we do this, then the whole nation is degraded.”

How much more pain must we endure before we recognize that these words are still true?

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2015

September 5, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Law Enforcement, Racism | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s About Treating Where It Hurts”: ‘All Lives Matter’ — Words Of Moral Cowardice

This is a column about three words of moral cowardice:

“All lives matter.”

Those words have risen as a kind of counter to “Black lives matter,” the movement that coalesced in response to recent killings and woundings of unarmed African-Americans by assailants — usually police officers — who often go unpunished. Mike Huckabee raised that counter-cry last week, telling CNN, “When I hear people scream ‘black lives matter,’ I’m thinking, of course they do. But all lives matter. It’s not that any life matters more than another.”

As if that were not bad enough, the former Arkansas governor and would-be president upped the ante by adding that Martin Luther King would be “appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”

“Elevating some lives.” Lord, have mercy.

Imagine for a moment that you broke your left wrist. In excruciating pain, you rush to the emergency room for treatment only to run into a doctor who insists on examining not just your mangled left wrist, but your uninjured right wrist, rib cage, femur, fibula, sacrum, humerus, phalanges, the whole bag of bones that is you. You say, “Doc, it’s just my left wrist that hurts.” And she says, “Hey, all bones matter.”

If you understand why that remark would be factual, yet also fatuous, silly, patronizing and off point, then you should understand why “All lives matter” is the same. It’s not about “elevating some lives” any more than it would be about elevating some bones. Rather, it’s about treating where it hurts.

And as for Dr. King: I cringe at his name being invoked by yet another conservative who has apparently never heard or read anything King said with the possible exception of the last few minutes of the “I Have A Dream” speech. No one with the slightest comprehension of what King fought for could seriously contend he would be “appalled” at a campaign geared to the suffering of African-American people.

Whose rights did the Montgomery bus boycott seek to vindicate? For whose freedom was King jailed in Birmingham, punched in Selma and stoned in Chicago? In his book Why We Can’t Wait, King answered complaints that we shouldn’t be doing something special for “the Negro” by noting that, “our society has been doing something special against the Negro for hundreds of years.”

Does that sound like someone who’d be “appalled” by “Black lives matter”?

No, that cry would likely resonate for him for the same reason it resonates for so many others. Namely because, while police abuse is not unknown in other lives, it is disproportionate in black lives. This is what Huckabee and the “All lives matter” crowd quail at recognizing. To treat where it hurts, one must first acknowledge that it still hurts, something conservatives often find hard to do because it gives the lie to their self-congratulatory balloon juice about how this country has overcome its founding sin.

That sort of willful ignorance has unfortunately become ubiquitous.

Which is why, for me, at least, the most inspiring sight to come out of Charleston following the racial massacre there was not the lowering of the Confederate battle flag, welcome as that was. Rather, it was a march through town by a mostly white crowd chanting, “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” To see those white sisters and brothers adopt that cry was a soul-filling reminder that at least some of us still realize we all have access — connection — to each other’s pain and joy by simple virtue of the fact that we all are human.

God love them, they did not slink guiltily from that connection. Instead, they ran bravely to it.

And you know what, Mike Huckabee? Martin Luther King would have been pleased.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 24, 2015

August 25, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Mike Huckabee, Racial Justice | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Police Abuse Is A Form Of Terror”: State Violence Versus Community Violence

Writing about the wave of deadly encounters — many caught on video — between unarmed black people and police officers often draws a particular criticism from a particular subset of readers.

It is some variation of this:

“Why are you not writing about the real problem — black-on-black crime? Young black men are far more likely to be killed by another young black man than by the police. Why do people not seem to protest when those young people are killed? Where is the media coverage of those deaths?”

This to me has always felt like a deflection, a juxtaposition meant to use one problem to drown out another.

Statistically, the sentiment is correct: Black people are more likely to be killed by other black people. But white people are also more likely to be killed by other white people. The truth is that murders and other violent crimes are often crimes of intimacy and access. People tend to kill people they know.

The argument suggests that police killings are relatively rare and therefore exotic, and distract from more mundane and widespread community violence. I view it differently: as state violence versus community violence.

People are often able to understand and contextualize community violence and, therefore, better understand how to avoid it. A parent can say to a child: Don’t run with that crowd, or hang out on that corner or get involved with that set of activities.

A recent study by scholars at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale found that homicides cluster and overwhelmingly involve a tiny group of people who not only share social connections but are also already involved in the criminal justice system.

We as adults can decide whether or not to have guns in the home. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, having a gun may increase the chances of being the victim of homicide. We can report violent family members.

And people with the means and inclination can decide to move away from high-poverty, high-crime neighborhoods.

These measures are not 100 percent effective, but they can produce some measure of protection and provide individual citizens with some degree of personal agency.

State violence, as epitomized in these cases by what people view as police abuses, conversely, has produced a specific feeling of terror, one that is inescapable and unavoidable.

The difference in people’s reactions to these different kinds of killings isn’t about an exaltation — or exploitation — of some deaths above others for political purposes, but rather a collective outrage that the people charged with protecting your life could become a threat to it. It is a reaction to the puncturing of an illusion, the implosion of an idea. How can I be safe in America if I can’t be safe in my body? It is a confrontation with a most discomforting concept: that there is no amount of righteous behavior, no neighborhood right enough, to produce sufficient security.

It produces a particular kind of terror, a feeling of nakedness and vulnerability, a fear that makes people furious at the very idea of having to be afraid.

The reaction to police killings is to my mind not completely dissimilar to people’s reaction to other forms of terrorism.

The very ubiquity of police officers and the power they possess means that the questionable killing in which they are involved creates a terror that rolls in like a fog, filling every low place. It produces ambient, radiant fear. It is the lurking unpredictability of it. It is the any- and everywhere-ness of it.

The black community’s response to this form of domestic terror has not been so different from America’s reaction to foreign terror.

The think tank New America found in June that 26 people were killed by jihadist attacks in the United States since 9/11 — compared with 48 deaths from “right wing attacks.” And yet, we have spent unending blood and treasure to combat Islamist terrorism in those years. Furthermore, according to Gallup, half of all Americans still feel somewhat or very worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism.

In one of the two Republican debates last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina seemed to be itching for yet another antiterrorism war, saying at one point: “I would take the fight to these guys, whatever it took, as long as it took.”

Whatever, however, long. This is not only Graham’s position, it’s the position of a large segment of the population.

Responding to New America’s tally, Fareed Zakaria wrote in The Washington Post in July:

“Americans have accepted an unprecedented expansion of government powers and invasions of their privacy to prevent such attacks. Since 9/11, 74 people have been killed in the United States by terrorists, according to the think tank New America. In that same period, more than 150,000 Americans have been killed in gun homicides, and we have done … nothing.”

And yet, we don’t ask “Why aren’t you, America, focusing on the real problem: Americans killing other Americans?”

Is the “real problem” question reserved only for the black people? Are black people not allowed to begin a righteous crusade?

One could argue that America’s overwhelming response to the terror threat is precisely what has kept the number of people killed in this country as a result of terror so low. But, if so, shouldn’t black Americans, similarly, have the right to exercise tremendous resistance to reduce the number of black people killed after interactions with the police?

How is it that we can understand an extreme reaction by Americans as a whole to a threat of terror but demonstrate a staggering lack of that understanding when black people in America do the same?

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 12, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Abuse, Police Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We’re Part Of A Long-Running Story”: Racism In The Obama Era: “You’re Taking Over Our Country”

It’s hard to believe that just three months ago we were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. But today I’m thinking of something President Obama said at the time.

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress, this hard-won progress — our progress — would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

That one goes down a little harder today than it did three months ago. As I noted earlier, the shooting at Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston this week evokes memories of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church 52 years ago in Birmingham. Combined with the recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed Black men, it’s no wonder that people are starting to question whether things have really changed much.

As I do so often at moments like this, I go back to something Derrick Jensen wrote in his book The Culture of Make Believe.

From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement…

Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, “normal,” chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.

So we must ask ourselves, “what is it that has threatened the entitlement?” In other words, what was Roof talking about when he said “you’re taking over our country?” To approach an answer to those questions, I think about something Jonathan Chait wrote after watching the movie 12 Years a Slave.

Notably, the most horrific torture depicted in 12 Years a Slave is set in motion when the protagonist, Solomon Northup, offers up to his master engineering knowledge he acquired as a free man, thereby showing up his enraged white overseer. It was precisely Northup’s calm, dignified competence in the scene that so enraged his oppressor. The social system embedded within slavery as depicted in the film is one that survived long past the Emancipation Proclamation – the one that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till a century after Northup published his autobiography. It’s a system in which the most unforgivable crime was for an African-American to presume himself an equal to — or, heaven forbid, better than — a white person.

The situation Chait is describing is what the Obama era represents and involves a whole different kind of challenge than the one’s we’ve dealt with in the past over slavery, segregation and Jim Crow. With the election of our first African American president, white people are having to deal with a black man as not only our equal, but our leader. Too many of us are prepared for neither. While most white people would not support slavery or legal discrimination, we’re not really ready to look black people in the eye as equals, much less see them in positions of authority over us. That is what decades of programming has done to our collective consciousness…we assume deference.

I’m not suggesting that the election of Barack Obama as president is the sole reason we’re seeing this explosion of hatred. I think Tim Wise did a pretty good job of explaining what’s happening when he talked about “the perfect storm for white anxiety.” But what has prompted the Third Reconstruction that Rev. William Barber talks about is clearly rooted in the racism evoked by the idea of our first African American president.

David Remnick – who, as Barack Obama’s biographer, perhaps knows him better than any other journalist – suggests that the President is well aware of all that.

Like many others, I’ve often tried to imagine how Obama’s mind works in these moments. After one interview in the Oval Office, he admitted to me that he was hesitant to answer some of my questions about race more fully or with less caution, for just as a stray word from him about, say, monetary policy could affect the financial markets, so, too, could a harsh or intemperate word about race affect the political temper of the country.

Obama is a flawed President, but his sense of historical perspective is well developed. He gives every sign of believing that his most important role in the American history of race was his election in November, 2008, and, nearly as important, his re-election, four years later. For millions of Americans, that election was an inspiration. But, for some untold number of others, it remains a source of tremendous resentment, a kind of threat that is capable, in some, of arousing the basest prejudices.

Obama hates to talk about this. He allows himself so little latitude. Maybe that will change when he is an ex-President focussed on his memoirs. As a very young man he wrote a book about becoming, about identity, about finding community in a black church, about finding a sense of home—in his case, on the South Side of Chicago, with a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. It will be beyond interesting to see what he’s willing to tell us—tell us with real freedom—about being the focus of so much hope, but also the subject of so much ambient and organized racial anger: the birther movement, the death threats, the voter-suppression attempts, the articles, books, and films that portray him as everything from an unreconstructed, drug-addled campus radical to a Kenyan post-colonial socialist. This has been the Age of Obama, but we have learned over and over that this has hardly meant the end of racism in America. Not remotely. Dylann Roof, tragically, seems to be yet another terrible reminder of that.

In an interview with Remnick last year, President Obama gave us some idea of how he sees his role in the long process of “perfecting our union.”

“I think we are born into this world and inherit all the grudges and rivalries and hatreds and sins of the past,” he said. “But we also inherit the beauty and the joy and goodness of our forebears. And we’re on this planet a pretty short time, so that we cannot remake the world entirely during this little stretch that we have.” The long view again. “But I think our decisions matter,” he went on. “And I think America was very lucky that Abraham Lincoln was President when he was President. If he hadn’t been, the course of history would be very different. But I also think that, despite being the greatest President, in my mind, in our history, it took another hundred and fifty years before African-Americans had anything approaching formal equality, much less real equality. I think that doesn’t diminish Lincoln’s achievements, but it acknowledges that at the end of the day we’re part of a long-running story. We just try to get our paragraph right.”

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved the pairing of this song with these images. It captures that “long-running story” and ends with the moment that sparked both the hope and the threat that Remnick described. We just need to add a clause at the end…”to be continued.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 21, 2015

June 25, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Racism, White Americans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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